On depression

With a highly-educated population you always end up with large groups of people who understand what’s happening and feel capable of making a contribution, but who are in the losing faction and can only watch while people they despise run the show, usually disastrously badly from their point of view. That describes me and pretty much everyone I know.

How would that not lead to depression? It’s a double whammy: being personally disregarded, disrespected, and unsuccessful, and also having to watch those in power ruin the world.

People called liberal arts majors, humanists,or generalists are the oned most subject to depression, while businessmen, politicos, and technical specialists are in the drivers’ seat and can be cheery as hell. They work at what they’re good at and are well paid for their work, and as a result most things that can be technically defined are well done, as long as they don’t conflict with some major interest. However, the biggest deficiencies and dysfunctions of our society are mostly at the general level of overall system coordination — for one example, our economic and governmental systems work beautifully on their own terms, but we have failed to make them compatible with the long-term survival of the human race.

And of course, the conclusion economists, politicos, businessmen, and specialists draw from this is “Oh, those generalists and humanists always fuck everything up, we need to take over and get things done right” — even though the generalists and humanists had never never in the loop at all. And the tech people go on to fuck things up worse, improvising by the seat of their pants on something they don’t know anything about

Daodejing Editing Principles

(I have written a new page explaining my motive and
my working principles for editing the Daodejing).

The Chinese text I have translated is my own work. Besides dividing some chapters, joining others, and completely changing the sequence of chapters and passages in accordance with my understanding of the way the text of the Daodejing was formed (explained here), I have done a line-by-line and word-by-word revision of the Wang Bi text based on the four recently-discovered older texts: the Guodian (GD) text, the two Mawangdui texts (MWDA, MWDB); and the Beida text (BD). My text is composite and not an attempt to reconstruct any earlier stage of the Daodejing, and it is meant to spare the reader the meaningless inconsistencies and glitches found in every historical text, while giving them the best possible understanding of the Daodejing, its history, and its real internal structure.


Hello my friends!

The Facebook Community Bot has put me in jail for 29 days for posting a photo of Eve Babitz and Marcel Duchamp playing chess. The Facebook Community Algorithm has also pushed me lower down the feed for posting a meme claiming that corporate profits have gone through the roof during the pandemic. Basically, Facebook is hostile to harmful people like me and Hitler, especially me.

This is sort of a relief, because while I have the classiest bunch of Facebook friends ever and I love you all dearly, Facebook is a deadly timesuck and I will now have time to do more meaningful things.

NOTE: Recently Counterpunch published my piece on Adam Kotsko’s Neoliberalism’s Demons, a book which deserves much more attention than it’s gotten so far.

Early Dao and Sage Dao 道 經 與 聖 經

Early Dao and Sage Dao
(Daojing and Shengjing )
John Emerson

A much earlier and significantly different version of my work,
from before I had seen the Guodian text: A Stratification of Laozi,
Journal of Chinese Religions, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1995, pp. 1-28.


Starting from Lau’s thesis that the Daodejing (DDJ) is an anthology of writings of diverse origin, together with the common hypothesis that the DDJ consists of a relatively more mystical layer and a relatively more political layer, in this article I divide DDJ into two parts, roughly equal in length, which I call Early Dao (the Daojing 道 經; the mystical and metaphysical part) and Sage Dao (the Shengjing 聖 經; the part speaking more of strategy and state service).

Continue reading “Early Dao and Sage Dao 道 經 與 聖 經”

Yang Dao

Yang Dao, the first of the 13 groups into which I have divided the Daodejing, develops ideas derived from or related to the ideas of 楊朱 Yang Zhu, a legendary sage who probably lived (or whose works appeared) sometime not too long before before 350 BC . This group consists of chapters 13, 24, 30, 31, 44, and 46. Of these, I think that chapters 13, 30, and 31 are the earliest and represent the Yangist origins of the Daodejing. These chapters are clumsily put together and textually difficult, with sometimes-opaque maxims accompanied by multiple attempts at elucidation. In particular, the early texts of chapter 30 vary widely, and I think that we can conclude that the final editors of the Daodejing inherited in these three chapters in garbled, very early forms which they tried to fix. These chapters might be words of the earliest Yangists, or even of Yang Zhu himself, and despite their textual problems, their general idea anti-militarist, anti-pride message is clear enough.

Skip James and the Fed’s Killing Floor

Skip James and the Federal Reserve’s Killing Floor

Sometime before 1990 I was reading a story about how industry was having so much trouble finding workers that companies were sending buses to inner city Milwaukee to pick up workers who didn’t have transportation. Heartwarming! Capitalism works!

But elsewhere in that same issue there was a different story about a meeting where a group of bankers worried about overheating and inflation, and concluded that interest rates must be raised. This is the Federal Reserve’s killing floor.

One thing all this shows is the way that economic issues and race issues are closely related and not mutually exclusive. If some group is going to be sacrificed every time the Fed turns the spigot, it makes sense for them to be people that no one else else cares about. Black Americans.

Daniel Kato, “Liberalizing Lynching”

Liberalizing Lynching

But this subtlety of accommodating something that was anything but subtle reveals the dark side of constitutional flexibility. If it is the case that “Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes of emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form”, then what exactly is the point of having a Constitution?”

Daniel Kato’s book Liberalizing Lynching describes the way the Supreme Court allowed the Fourteenth Amendment (1866) to be suspended in the Southern states for the greater part of a century (1877-1965). Lynch-mob justice came to be accepted as normal in about a third of the US, and black Americans in the old Confederacy lost their voting rights, their right to the protection of the laws, their right to a fair trial, and their access to education.

Kathleen Pistor, “The Code of Capital”

The Code of Capital

Pistor’s book shows how the law, in various ways, has been tweaked to favor the biggest businessmen and often leaves everone else holding the bag. Poeple in general do not think of the law and the courts as enemies, but there are good reasons why they should.

Contracts and property rights support free markets, but capitalism requires more – the legal privileging of some assets, which gives their holders a comparative advantage in accumulating wealth over others. Not all assets are equal; the ones with superior legal coding tend to be “more equal” than others.

Not the asset itself, but its legal coding, protects the asset holder from the headwinds of ordinary business cycles and gives his wealth longevity, therefore setting the stage for sustained inequality. Fortunes can be made or lost by altering an asset’s legal coding.

Today’s entrepreneurs no longer need to seek redress at home, and the fate of their wealth is no longer tied to the communities they have left behind. Instead, they can choose among many legal systems whichever one they prefer, and can enjoy its benefits even without physically moving themselves.

(All citations from Pistor.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Post-decadent Novel “This Side of Paradise”

F Scott. Fitzgerald’s Post-decadent Novel “This Side of Paradise”

This Side of Paradise is usually understood in terms of its present and future (the Jazz Age / Lost Generation) but it is also illuminating to look at it in terms of its past. The voluminous reading lists comprising Amory Blaine’s literary education show us this book’s literary background in detail, and authors of the decadent tradition are found on these lists from the very beginning.  Along with his Midwestern  Catholicism, it is the decadence he inherits from his mother that gives Amory a feeling of otherness that plagues him  throughout the book.